Tag Archives: The Criterion Collection

Podcast #201 – ‘Finding Dory,’ ‘Dr. Strangelove,’ ‘Cutter’s Way’ and More!

Steve Head and John Black discuss the new theatrical, home video and film book releases…

Disney/Pixar’s Finding Dory


The Criterion Collection’s Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb


Twilight Time’s Cutter’s Way


Paramount Pictures’ Anomalisa


Magnolia Home Entertainment’s The Wave


Oldcastle Books’ An Introduction to Film: A Director’s Perspective by Alex Cox


Pantheon Books’ William Cameron Menzies: The Shape of Films to Come by James Curtis


Universal Pictures’ Mr Right


Remember: if you leave us an iTunes review, you will have done perhaps the most wonderful thing we can ask for!


Podcast #200 – ‘The Finest Hours,’ ‘The Naked Island,’ ‘Only Angels Have Wings’ and More!

Steve Head and John Black discuss the new theatrical, home video and film book releases…

Twilight Time’s Cutter’s Way


The Criterion Collection’s Only Angels Have Wings


Howard Hawks: New Perspectives, edited by Ian Brooks


The Criterion Collection’s The Naked Island


The Criterion Collection’s Brief Encounter


Turner Classic Movies: The Essentials: 52 Must-See Movies and Why They Matter by Jeremy Arnold


Universal’s The Boy


Paramount’s Top Gun: Thirtieth Anniversary Edition Blu-ray


X-Men: Apolcalypse


Alice Through The Looking Glass


Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising


Remember: if you leave us an iTunes review, you will have done perhaps the most wonderful thing we can ask for!


The Criterion Collection’s Title Announcements for April, 2015

The Criterion Collection has announced their new title releases for April, 2015 – Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels (1941), Carol Reed’s Odd Man Out (1947), Jean Renoir’s The River (1951), Peter Yate’s The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973), Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le silence de la mer (1949), and Eplise 42: Silent Ozu – Theree Crime Dramas.


SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS – Blu-ray & DVD Editions
Tired of churning out lightweight comedies, Hollywood director John L. Sullivan (The Palm Beach Story’s Joel McCrea) decides to make O Brother, Where Art Thou?—a serious, socially responsible film about human suffering. After his producers point out that he knows nothing of hardship, Sullivan hits the road disguised as a hobo. En route to enlightenment, he meets a lovely but no-nonsense young woman (I Married a Witch’s Veronica Lake)—and more trouble than he ever dreamed of. This comic masterpiece by Preston Sturges (The Lady Eve) is among the finest Hollywood satires and a high-water mark in the career of one of the industry’s most revered funnymen.

1941 • 90 minutes • Black & White • Monaural • 1.37:1 aspect ratio

• New 2K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
• Audio commentary from 2001 by filmmakers Noah Baumbach, Kenneth Bowser, Christopher Guest, and Michael McKean
Preston Sturges: The Rise and Fall of an American Dreamer (1990), a 76-minute documentary made by Bowser for PBS’s American Masters series
• New video essay by film critic David Cairns, featuring filmmaker Bill Forsyth
• Interview from 2001 with Sandy Sturges, the director’s widow
• Interview with Sturges by gossip columnist Hedda Hopper from 1951
• Archival audio recordings of Sturges
• PLUS: An essay by critic Stuart Klawans

UPC: 7-15515-14371-4
ISBN: 978-1-60465-974-0
SRP: $39.95
PREBOOK: 3/17/15
STREET: 4/14/15

UPC: 7-15515-14381-3
ISBN: 978-1-60465-975-7
SRP: $29.95
PREBOOK: 3/17/15
STREET: 4/14/15


ODD MAN OUT- Blu-ray & DVD Editions
Taking place largely over the course of one tense night, Carol Reed’s psychological noir, set in an unnamed Belfast, stars James Mason (Lolita) as a revolutionary ex-con leading a robbery that goes horribly wrong. Injured and hunted by the police, he seeks refuge throughout the city, while the woman he loves (Kathleen Ryan) searches for him among the shadows. Reed and cinematographer Robert Krasker (who would collaborate again on The Fallen Idol and The Third Man) create images of stunning depth for this intense, spiritual depiction of a man’s ultimate confrontation with himself.

1947 • 116 minutes • Black & White • Monaural • 1.37:1 aspect ratio

• New high-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
Postwar Poetry, a new short documentary about the film
• New interview with British cinema scholar John Hill
• New interview with music scholar Jeff Smith about composer William Alwyn and his score
Home, James, a 1972 documentary featuring actor James Mason revisiting his hometown
• Radio adaptation of the film from 1952, starring Mason and Dan O’Herlihy
• PLUS: An essay by critic Imogen Sara Smith

UPC: 7-15515-14391-2
ISBN: 978-1-60465-976-4
SRP: $39.95
PREBOOK: 3/17/15
STREET: 4/14/15

UPC: 7-15515-14401-8
ISBN: 978-1-60465-977-1
SRP: $29.95
PREBOOK: 3/17/15
STREET: 4/14/15


THE RIVER – Blu-ray & DVD Editions
This entrancing first color feature from Jean Renoir (The Rules of the Game)—shot entirely on location in India—is a visual tour de force. Based on the novel by Rumer Godden, the film eloquently contrasts the growing pains of three young women with the immutability of the holy Bengal River, around which their daily lives unfold. Enriched by Renoir’s subtle understanding of and appreciation for India and its people, The River gracefully explores the fragile connections between transitory emotions and steadfast creation.

1951 • 99 minutes • Color • Monaural • 1.33:1 aspect ratio

• High-definition digital transfer from the 2004 Film Foundation restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
• Archival introduction to the film by director Jean Renoir
Around the River, a 60-minute 2008 documentary by Arnaud Mandagaran about the making of the film
• Interview from 2004 with Martin Scorsese
• Audio interview from 2000 with producer Ken McEldowney
• New visual essay by film writer Paul Ryan, featuring rare behind-the-scenes stills
• Trailer
• PLUS: An essay by film scholar Ian Christie and original production notes by Renoir

UPC: 7-15515-14411-7
ISBN: 978-1-60465-978-8
SRP: $39.95
PREBOOK: 3/24/14
STREET: 4/21/15

UPC: 7-15515-14421-6
ISBN: 978-1-60465-979-5
SRP: $29.95
PREBOOK: 3/24/14
STREET: 4/21/15


In one of the best performances of his legendary career, Robert Mitchum (The Night of the Hunter) plays small-time gunrunner Eddie “Fingers” Coyle in an adaptation by Peter Yates (Breaking Away) of George V. Higgins’s acclaimed novel The Friends of Eddie Coyle. World-weary and living hand to mouth, Coyle works on the sidelines of the seedy Boston underworld just to make ends meet. But when he finds himself facing a second stretch of hard time, he’s forced to weigh loyalty to his criminal colleagues against snitching to stay free. Directed with a sharp eye for its gritty locales and an open heart for its less-than-heroic characters, this is one of the true treasures of 1970s Hollywood filmmaking—a suspenseful crime drama in stark, unforgiving daylight.

1973 • 102 minutes • Color • Monaural • 1.85:1 aspect ratio

• Restored high-definition digital transfer, approved by director Peter Yates, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
• Audio commentary from 2009 featuring Yates
• Stills gallery
• PLUS: An essay by critic Kent Jones and a 1973 on-set profile of actor Robert Mitchum from Rolling Stone

UPC: 7-15515-14471-1
ISBN: 978-1-60465-984-9
SRP: $39.95
PREBOOK: 3/31/15
STREET: 4/28/15


LE SILENCE DE LA MER – Blu-ray & DVD Editions
Jean-Pierre Melville began his superb filmmaking career with this powerful adaptation of an influential underground novel written during the Nazi occupation of France. An idealistic, naive German officer is assigned to the home of a middle-aged man and his grown niece; their response to his presence—their only form of resistance—is complete silence. Constructed with elegant minimalism and shot, by the legendary Henri Decaë (The 400 Blows), with hushed eloquence, Le silence de la mer is a fascinating tale of moral ambiguity that points the way toward Melville’s later films about resistance and the occupation (Léon Morin, Priest; Army of Shadows) yet remains a singularly eerie masterwork in its own right.

1949 • 99 minutes • Black & White • Monaural • In French with English subtitles • 1.33:1 aspect ratio

• New high-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
24 Hours in the Life of a Clown (1946), Melville’s seventeen-minute first film
• New interview with film scholar Ginette Vincendeau
• Interview with Melville from 1959
• New English subtitle translation
• PLUS: An essay by critic Geoffrey O’Brien

UPC: 7-15515-14491-9
ISBN: 978-1-60465-986-3
SRP: $39.95
PREBOOK: 3/31/15
STREET: 4/28/15

UPC: 7-15515-14501-5
ISBN: 978-1-60465-987-0
SRP: $29.95
PREBOOK: 3/31/15
STREET: 4/28/15


The great Japanese filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu (Late Spring) is best known for the stately, meditative domestic dramas he made after World War II. But during his first decade at Shochiku studios, where he dabbled in many genres, he put out a trio of precisely rendered, magnificently shot and edited silent crime films about the hopes, dreams, and loves of small-time crooks. Heavily influenced in narrative and visual style by the American films that Ozu adored, these movies are revelatory early examples of his cinematic genius, accompanied here by new piano scores by Neil Brand.


In Yasujiro Ozu’s Walk Cheerfully, which gracefully combines elements of the relationship drama and the gangster story, small-time hood Kenji, a.k.a. Ken the Knife, wants to go straight for good girl Yasue but finds that starting over isn’t as simple as it sounds. This was the Japanese master’s first true homage to American crime movies, and it is a fleetly told, expressively shot work of humor and emotional depth.

1930 · 96 minutes · Black & White · Silent · Japanese intertitles with English subtitles · 1.33:1 aspect ratio

In noirish darkness, a man commits a shocking robbery. But, as we soon learn, this seeming criminal mastermind is actually a sensitive everyman driven to commit desperate deeds for the sake of his family. Unfolding over the course of one night, Yasujiro Ozu’s That Night’s Wife combines suspense with the emotional domestic drama one associates with the filmmaker’s later masterpieces and employs beautifully evocative camera work.

1930 · 66 minutes · Black & White · Silent · Japanese intertitles with English subtitles · 1.33:1 aspect ratio

This formally accomplished and psychologically complex gangster tale pivots on the growing attraction between Joji, a hardened career criminal, and Kazuko, the sweet-natured older sister of a newly initiated young hoodlum—a relationship that provokes the jealousy of Joji’s otherwise patient moll, Tokiko (The Life of Oharu’s Kinuyo Tanaka). With effortlessly cool performances and visual inventiveness, Dragnet Girl is a bravura work from Yasujiro Ozu.

1933 · 100 minutes · Black & White · Silent · Japanese intertitles with English subtitles · 1.33:1 aspect ratio

UPC: 7-15515-14511-4
ISBN: 978-1-60465-988-7
SRP: $44.95
PREBOOK: 3/24/15
STREET: 4/21/15

A Look Inside The Criterion Collection’s ‘Vengeance is Mine’ Blu-ray


  • Japan
  • 1979
  • 140 minutes
  • Color
  • 1:66:1
  • Japanese
  • Spine # #384


  • Iwao Enokizu Ken Ogata
  • Haru Asano Mayumi Ogawa
  • Kazuko Enokizu Mitsuko Baisho
  • Captain Kawai Frankie Sakai
  • Shigemi Ideike Kazuo Kitamura
  • Kayo Enokizu Chocho Miyako
  • Hisano Asano Nijiko Kiyokawa
  • Shizuo Enokizu Rentaro Mikuni


  • Director Shohei Imamura
  • Producer Kazuo Inoue
  • Based on the novel by Ryuzo Saki
  • Screenplay Masaru Baba
  • Photography Shinsaku Himeda
  • Music Shinichiro Ikebe


A thief, a murderer, and a charming lady-killer, Iwao Enokizu (Ken Ogata) is on the run from the police. Director Shohei Imamura turns this fact-based story—about the seventy-eight-day killing spree of a remorseless man from a devoutly Catholic family—into a cold, perverse, and at times diabolically funny examination of the primitive coexisting with the modern. More than just a true-crime tale, Vengeance Is Mine bares humanity’s snarling id.

Disc Features:

  • Restored high-definition digital film transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
  • Audio commentary from 2005 featuring critic Tony Rayns
  • Excerpts from a 1999 interview with director Shohei Imamura, produced by the Directors Guild of Japan
  • Trailer and teaser
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic Michael Atkinson, a 1994 interview with Imamura by filmmaker Toichi Nakata, and writings by Imamura on Vengeance Is Mine and his approach to directing
  • New cover by Eric Skillman

‘Judex,’ The Roots of Revenge [DVD review]


Start with a classic tale of revenge, spin in some mysticism and a pinch of science fiction, mix well with some classic early 60’s expressionistic filmmaking and you end up with Judex, a wonderful film that nicely illustrates how everything old is new again.

Shot in 1963, it stars Channing Pollock as Judex, a shadowy avenger who sends powerful banker Favraux a note threatening to kill him if he doesn’t repay all the money he swindled from his victims over the years. When Favraux drops dead at a dinner party at exactly the time foretold by Judex, the tale begins to branch out into some interesting and complicated subplots of conspiracy and straight-up payback.

710_DF_box_348x490_originalBased on Louis Feuillade’s twelve part silent film series from 1916 (which was incredibly popular in France), director Georges Franju’s 1963 film distills the key elements of the story and weaves through them enough expressionist imagery to keep the film just one or two degrees away from reality; it’s akin to that hypnopompic state where we stumble partway out of sleep and out of dreams and are not quite certain which world we still occupy. Should we take the film seriously or are we to treat it as a high camp tribute? Franju maintains such a tight control over how the elements connect that he never tips his hand, never hints at a bluff and ultimately leaves us to decide the right emotional tone for viewing.

And it plays out perfectly. Since the original serial ran over 5 hours, Franju takes a few shortcuts and doesn’t delve too deeply into the details and that’s the only area where the remake could use some shoring up. What comes across as convenience or coincidence in the 1963 version is better explained as having purpose in the 1916 episodes. At the same time, Franju occasionally does the opposite; one major character who is a victim of banker Favraux is dealt with in a “why the hell did they do THAT?” headscratcher in the 1916 serial but in the remake the character presents a specific threat to Favraux, making his actions (which are identical to what the character did in the original) understandable. Still, that’s Franju’s style; he didn’t feel the need to ground his version too closely to our reality. In fact, it’s obvious that Judex isn’t really the character he’s most interested in; rather he spends more screen time exploring the actions of character Diana Monti (played by Francine Bergé) than Judex himself (in an interview with Francine Bergé included in the extras, she laughs at how the extent of her direction from Franju was “be evil”). Franju is more interested in manifestation than intent, in effect than cause but ironically uses the excuse of cause (revenge on Favraux for the evil he did) to explore effect only. Well played, Mr. Franju. Well played.


All that having been said, if you can spare the time, watch the 1916 serial first and then watch the 1963 remake. That way the gaps in Franju’s version won’t really distract and it makes it easier to settle in and let the visuals wash over you.

What’s also fascinating about the story is how similar so many of our twentieth century archetypes are to Judex…while watching Judex (the character’s portrayal in both the 1916 serial and the 1963 remake is the same with the exception that Franju gives Judex the gift of sleight of hand) we can see the seminal beginnings of such characters as the Shadow, Batman, the Green Hornet, etc. and I wonder how many of those character were inspired by Feuillade’s original serial. We have a mysterious, cloak-shrouded hero who lives underground in a distant ruin along with his sidekick (Judex’s brother) using technology and science to avenge a wrong that ruined his parents and for the suffering of which he vowed revenge. He uses his secret identity to move in and out of society while trying to also protect the woman he’s fallen in love with. Where have we heard THAT story before?


If the characters mentioned above did have any inspiration in Judex, they also embraced the fantastic elements more wholeheartedly, placing them firmly in the pulp genre. Both Feuillade and Franju, on the other hand, merely use those facets to assist Judex whereas the others couldn’t exist without those props. Judex could easily complete his mission without his tools; they assist him, they don’t define him.

While Criterion has released the film on both DVD and Blu-Ray, the DVD was the version sent for evaluation. The 1.66:1 transfer is clean and sharp with deep blacks and clear highlights that nicely display cinematographer Marcel Fradetal’s outstanding imagery consistently throughout the entire film. Film grain is clear without distracting. According to the booklet that accompanies the release:

“This new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on an ARRISCAN film scanner from the 35mm original camera negative at Eclair Laboratories in Epinay-sur-Seine, France. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, and warps were manually removed using MTI’s DRS, while Digital Vision’s Phoenix was used for flicker, jitter, grain management, and small dirt. The original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from a 35mm soundtrack negative. Clicks, thumps, hiss, and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation.”

And the clean-up is outstanding with no digital artifacting to mar or distract from the visuals (duh, it’s Criterion after all). The audio track is clean, well-defined, and nicely balanced.

The extras include:

•Interview from 2007 with the film’s cowriter Jacques Champreux, the grandson of Louis Feuillade, cocreator of the silent serial Judex

• Interview from 2012 with actor Francine Bergé

Franju le visionnaire, a fifty-minute program from 1998 on the director’s career and imagination

• New English subtitle translation

•Two short films by Franju: Hôtel des Invalides (1951), about the Paris military complex, and Le grand Méliès (1952), about director Georges Méliès

Two additional extras, The Secret Heart of Judex, an essay by Geoffrey O’Brien and Meet Channing Pollock, a video by Glenn Kenny, are also available free of charge on the Criterion website.

Podcast #194 – Nerdist’s ‘Zero Charisma,’ Olive Films’ ‘The Pawnbroker’ (’64), ‘FLYING TIGERS’ (’42) and More!

Sam Eidson and in ZERO CHARISMA. ©Tribecca Film ©Nerdist Industries
Sam Eidson and in ZERO CHARISMA. ©Tribecca Film ©Nerdist Industries

Steve Head and John Black discuss the new Blu-ray and DVD releases: Nerdist Industries’ Zero Charisma; Olive Films’ The Pawnbroker (1964) and Flying Tigers (1942); Criterion’s Breaking the Waves (1996); Mill Creeks’ Gamera: Ultimate Collections Vols. I & II and more!

Remember: if you leave us an iTunes review, you will have done perhaps the most wonderful thing we can ask for!


The Criterion Collection’s ‘Riot in Cell Block 11’ (1954) [Review]

©The Criterion Collection
©The Criterion Collection

Recently released on Blu-Ray and DVD as part of the Criterion Collection, Riot In Cell Block 11 presents a heartfelt, neo-documentary approach to a group of prisoners who stage a riot in their attempt to gain some much-needed reforms. Director Don Siegel (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Dirty Harry) shot the film in Folsom Prison using a mix of actors and real inmates over an eight week period after being approached by producer Walter Wanger who had himself recently been released from prison after serving time for shooting his wife’s lover. Having experienced firsthand the abuse of prisoners, Wanger wanted to spread awareness of the problem and was able to secure a deal with Allied Artists to shoot the film.

©The Criterion Collection
©The Criterion Collection

The plot is lean and gets straight to the point, sparing little time in getting to the riot itself. Overtaking a guard during lockdown at night, the convicts in cell block 11 are quickly able to subdue the remaining three guards and take control of the entire block. Convict James Dunn (played by Neville Brand) takes control of the inmates, focusing their anger into an effort to force the changes they’ve long been petitioning for such as remodeling the wing, ensuring better treatment, gaining educational programs and removing violent mental patients who were placed in the facility due to unavailable mental health facilities. With his hands full trying to keep some of the aforementioned patients from killing the guards en masse (this was before they had cable and X-Box, after all), he enlists the aid of the Colonel (played by Robert Osterloh), an ex-military colonel who is nearing parole and wants nothing to do with the violence. Eventually recognizing that he’s a part of the equation whether he likes it or not, he reluctantly agrees to draft their list of demands. When the state police are brought in to quell the uprising (and a brief revolt in another cell block) a prisoner is killed and the pressure is on for both sides to find a solution before the violence explodes out of control.

The film focuses more on the movement of the prisoners and less on their characters and this is one of the area’s where I felt the film lacked; we’re expected to have sympathy for their plight but we never see the prisoners being abused or mistreated (short of sleeping in cots in some of the overcrowded areas) and because we never really learn who they are as people, we can only judge their character upon their actions, which are violent and forceful. I understand that the production wants us to focus on the reality of their world and what they’re enduring, but all we really know about them is summed up in the label CONVICT and that’s a label with a lot of negative baggage to overcome. Unfortunately, we’re given scant reason to ever reframe their identity. The one or two characters we do get some insight into, opine about not being treated fairly or as human beings and to my ears it started to come across as whining. I mean, lord, you’re in freakin’ Folsom Prison. Further, you’re in the Isolation Ward at Folsom Prison which is like prison for prison or something. I agree you shouldn’t be tortured but you did do something that landed you there and it’s not because you deserved a vacation. Because, y’know, prison.

While a lot of time is spent underlining the need for prison reform (the Warden, played by Emile Meyer, is vocally sympathetic to their prisoner’s needs but critical of their methods), scant lip service is given to an opposing perspective. Commissioner Haskell (played by Frank Faylen) is an outspoken critic of the Warden’s previous efforts at prison reform and makes no secret of his contempt for the inmates. The Governor (played by Thomas Browne Henry in a small supporting role) is cautious and seems more concerned about the politics of agreeing to the demands of the prisoners than to the validity of their plight. Still, this is clearly a film with an agenda shot during a time in our history when the concept of social movements was still largely finding itself and the sympathies of most of the population lay with the government and authority figures in general. With that kind of an uphill battle, the overt hammering of the message may in fact have been their best approach.

©The Criterion Collection
©The Criterion Collection

I certainly don’t think this is a bad film, but I think if a little more time had been spent developing and portraying the characters and encouraging us to invest our sympathies in them and less in soap box proselytizing, the film would have packed more punch. As it stands now, I feel like I’m watching a bunch of impulsive men acting out and telling us to trust they have reasons for doing what they do without actually ever presenting the evidence for it. And as a sidebar, I can’t help but wonder if the prisoner who’s suffering a nightmare in the beginning of the film wasn’t the inspiration for the dying prisoner Lloyd Henreid deals with in his cell in Stephen King’s novel The Stand. And here’s some fun trivia for you: the word “gunsel” is used in this film and in many films of the era to refer to a criminal with a gun. It’s actually a Yiddish word meaning “a young man kept for homosexual purposes” and it’s inclusion here may have been more than just a misunderstanding of its definition; it follows a scene where it’s hinted that one cellmate is sexually interested in another, younger one (an extrapolation from the Jackson, Michigan prison riot where aggressive homosexual activity was considered a problem and the riot which this film was plotted around).

As for the disc itself, Criterion once again delivers a beautiful presentation. Though I only had the DVD to review, I was impressed with the sharpness of the image and the well-balanced picture presented here in a 1.37:1 aspect ratio that was common for the era. Filmed in B&W, the blacks have presence and the highlights are bright without ever blowing out. The greys are solid and the overall contrasts are nicely blended. The grain is a bit soft which is to be expected on standard def.

Disc extras are spartan, almost certainly owing to a lack of available materials. Included are photo montages that run underneath excerpts read from the director’s 1993 autobiography, A Siegel Film and Stuart Kaminsky’s 1974 book Don Siegel: Director, both read by Siegel’s son Kristoffer Tabori.

Also included is an audio excerpt from the 1953 NBC radio documentary series The Challenge of Our Prisons as well as an interesting and insightful audio commentary by film scholar Matthew H. Bernstein. Bernstein discusses a wide range of subjects relevant to the film, from Wanger’s legal history that led to its conception, to the point-by-point similarities to the Jackson, Michigan riot  (which also led to the filmmakers being sued by the makers of a documentary on that riot).

Three additional extras, a 1954 article by producer Walter Wanger, an essay by critic Chris Fujiwara, and a 1974 tribute to Siegel by filmmaker Sam Peckinpah are included on the Blu-Ray but not the DVD (though the latter two can be viewed on the Criterion website).

Overlord, Remastered for the 70th Anniversary of D-Day [Blu-ray Review]

© 2014 The Criterion Collection

Operation Overlord, that was the code-name for the for the allied invasion of France on June 6th, 1944. This month marks the 70th anniversary of that invasion, better known as D-Day. Many films have been made about World War II and D-Day, most notably The Longest Day (1962), Saving Private Ryan (1998) and the 2001 miniseries Band of Brothers. What sets Overlord apart from the others, is its use of actual war footage, obtained from the archives of the London Imperial War Museum.

© 2014 The Criterion Collection

Gun-camera footage, training maneuvers, D-Day preparations and the horrendous fire bombings of London are inter-cut with John Alcott’s beautifully shot footage documenting a fictional British lad named Thomas Beddows (Brian Stirner) who leaves home during the German attacks on London to join the British Army. As Private Beddows progresses toward the invasion, his self-doubt and fears of mortality grow. In one of Thomas’ letters home he sums up his feelings, “I am part of a machine that grows bigger and bigger, while we (the soldiers) grow smaller and smaller, until there’s nothing left.”

His dread is echoed throughout the film by several premonitions and much foreshadowing. These scenes often appear as dreams or daydreams that haunt Thomas. There really isn’t much of a love story in Overlord either. While many movies about World War II keep up the viewers’ morale with love interests and patriotism, Overlord does not. When Thomas meets a young woman at a dance, I felt I would be seeing the clichéd romance of a young soldier off to war. They kiss and set up a date, but the gears of war are ever-turning, and their romance can never be realized. Thomas is sent away early to prepare for the invasion, leaving the girl (Julie Neesam) behind.

Thomas’ journey through boot camp is bleak. Cinematographer John Alcott, best known for the four films he made with Director Stanley Kubrick, including Barry Lyndon (1975) that won him an Oscar, expertly matches the grain and lighting of 1940’s film to his 1975 footage. And, as you would expect, everything is shot in black-and-white with a 1.75:1 aspect ratio, giving a near-seamless transition between old and new. The only thing I noticed that gave away certain documentary scenes was the dust and scratches that popped up from time to time, while the newer material was flawless.

Overlord is a must-see film for anyone interested in World War II. But be warned, the images are at times horrific and gruesome, and the reality of war gives Overlord a very dark and humbling tone.

© 2014 The Criterion Collection

Beddows (Brian Stirner) fantasizes about the girl he left behind (Julie Neesam) in Overlord. © 2014 The Criterion Collection

I applaud Criterion for preserving cinematic treasures, such as Overlord, for future generations. Admittedly, I hadn’t heard of Overlord until its Criterion 70th anniversary of D-Day release in May. And sadly, even DVDs and Blu-rays are becoming a thing of the past as video streaming becomes more popular. Unfortunately, one problem with streaming is the lack of special features. This is where Criterion shines! Overlord includes some fascinating extras such as an audio commentary track featuring Director Stuart Cooper and actor Brian Stirner, “Mining The Archive” featurette from 2007 with archivists from London’s Imperial War Museum, a 2007 photo-essay on Robert Capa’s influence on Director Stuart Cooper, “Cameramen at War” featurette, Cooper’s 1969 short film A Test of Violence, focusing on Spanish artist Juan Genovés, the 1941 Ministry of Information’s propaganda film Germany Calling, and excerpts form D-Day soldiers journals.

Year of release: 1975
Running time: 84 minutes
Distributor: The Criterion Collection

The Cool About: Criterion’s Master of the House on Blu-ray


Criterion has a couple of titles releasing next Tuesday, April, 22nd – Don Segal’s 1954 film Riot in Cell Block 11, which I’m very much looking forward to, and Carl Dreyer’s 1925 precision piece, Master of the House (Du skal ere din hustru).

Master of the House? A precision piece?” you may say. Hell yeah! … That’s what’s cool about it (among other things).

Now, although I have a degree in History and many classes about cinema under my belt, I’m no Dreyer expert. Cards on the table, I’m a dilettante of silent cinema, every day discovering more about it.

At the other end of the people-who-know-a-lot-of-things-about-Carl-Dreyer spectrum are film historians David Bordwell and Casper Tybjerg. They deliver the two video supplements – which, by the way, are included on both the Blu-ray and the DVD (Thank you, Criterion! You put Paramount Home Media Distribution to shame!) – on the Master of the House discs. It’s from Mr. Tybjerg’s 20-plus-minute interview and Mr. Bordwell’s visual essay that I convey the following takes (i.e. the coolness gleaned) …

It’s all about the details – Until perhaps the mid-1920’s, Danish films predominantly utilized a coverage technique referred to as a “tableau” process, or the “tableau effect” – a style of filming or staging in which the action is covered with a single camera, without zooming in on the actors, sort of like filming a play.

Being that Master of the House, a domestic drama (and some say comedy, but I wouldn’t go that far), is set almost entirely in a two-room apartment, Dreyer sought to meticulously stress details, minor details, believing that this would then sharpen characterizations. By granting close attention to preparing breakfast, washing clothes, and, as Mr. Tybjerg says, the general “process of managing a home in the days before modern appliances,” it constituted a turn from the Danish film-making norm, and an acceptance of American influences (Cecil B. DeMille). To film a master shot and cut to a close-up? Sacrilege!

Also, as Master of the House gets deeper into the story, you’ll notice that Dreyer goes for more close-ups of his actors, in a way abstracting them from their everyday environment. This he did to greater effect in The Passion of Joan of Arc (’28). I mean, seriously. Who at that time, besides maybe Buñuel, would want to photograph an actor eschewing a fly from her eyelid?

What’s also cool?

  • In the set’s booklet, Criterion – perhaps unknowingly paying homage to the film – details the process of the film’s restoration down to the number of hours spent on certain elements.
  • The video supplements are in HD, a quality that can’t be said for the supplements on even Universal Pictures best Blu-ray sets (note: E.T. The Extraterrestrial, Jaws, and To Kill a Mockingbird).
  • The new cover and booklet art created by papercut artist Béatrice Coron. Here’s her official website. You might also be interested in her TEDx lecture entitled Stories Cut from Paper, and her short film Daily Battles, which you can watch here.